The price of loyalty: PGA Tour pros from Jordan Spieth to Adam Scott to Chesson Hadley react to the PGA Tour’s equity ownership plan

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On April 24, PGA Tour pros competing in the pro-am at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans couldn’t stop checking their phones. The reason? To tap refresh on their email and see if their notification of how much they had been allocated of $930 million in player equity shares that were divvied up to nearly 200 Tour members, or as one player put it, “Christmas in April,” had arrived.

Commissioner Jay Monahan originally detailed the Tour’s first-of-its-kind equity ownership program in a Feb. 7 memo to players. And it was why players experienced an uncontrollable urge to check their phones during play; it was so egregious that the Tour sent pros a memo reminding them of its phone usage policy.

Everyone wanted to know how much their loyalty was worth. The Telegraph reported Tiger Woods was to receive $100 million in equity and Rory McIlroy $50 million from a tier in which 36 players reportedly split $750 million. When McIlroy was asked at the Zurich Classic how much would make players feel validated for their decision to stay with the PGA Tour, he said, “I think the one thing we’ve learned in golf over the last two years is there’s never enough.”

We talked to a wide array of pros at the CJ Byron Nelson last week to find out how the rollout went and how they feel about being shareholders in the Tour’s new for-profit entity.

Chesson Hadley hits his tee shot on the first hole during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course – South Course. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

One of those players who had his phone out and received a memo with good news was Chesson Hadley. Last June, he was the first-round leader at the RBC Canadian Open after Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan stunned the world by announcing the framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s PIF. Hadley, 36, remarked at the time that he would like to be compensated for his loyalty and the one-time Tour winner, ranked No. 297 and with earnings north of $12 million, was crucified for it.

“I chose the wrong pronoun. I said ‘I’ and people thought I was trying to be like I’m some world hero, golf hero that deserves it. I’m very aware of my career compared to the big fish who have stayed, I’m very aware of that,” he said last week ahead of the CJ Cup Byron Nelson.

“The basement pays pretty good. I have a good view from the basement.”

Hadley was pleased to receive his shares, something he said all players who finished in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup point standings received and noted that he was “blessed to be in the right place at the right time.”

“Some people deserve more, some people didn’t get any that probably should have but it’s not a perfect system,” he added. “It will be curious what the Tour looks like in 10 years. There’s never been a major sports association that hasn’t gone up in value, right? They keep growing. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys are worth $6 billion now and 10 years ago they were worth $3 billion. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory of the PGA Tour and everybody’s equity grows.”

Asked if being a shareholder in the Tour changes his view about LIV players returning, he said, “It makes me want some of them back more. My piece goes up immediately if Jon Rahm comes back. The Tour is instantly more valuable if he comes back. I would think my equity goes up if PIF becomes an investor but I don’t know.”

Adam Scott: ‘I don’t think anything the PGA Tour is doing right now is about spending time looking in the mirror’

Adam Scott putts on the fourth hole during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

As a player-director on the Tour’s policy board, Scott, 43, has had an intimate view of how the sausage has been made in forming the for-profit entity and dishing out shares in the new venture.

“Honestly, I’ve really only heard of a couple of disappointments from some people who didn’t receive any. Of course, you’d be disappointed if you thought you were going to get some equity or a grant and you didn’t,” he said, noting that no one had directly approached him but that’s what he had heard through the grapevine. “I don’t think there are any holes in the system that was devised. I was asked should Jack Nicklaus get the most? I don’t think anything the PGA Tour is doing right now is about spending time looking in the mirror. It’s about building a Tour for the future.

“Grants to the legends category was correct and I just don’t know how far you can go in giving grants to players of 20 years ago, for example, when it is more about now and looking forward.”

Scott said he wasn’t sure how big a carrot the shares would be for players but called it a “gift,” a “perk,” and a “bonus.”

“It’s not exactly the same as the retirement plan but I think it is an additional perk of being a Tour member and having a stake in the business,” he said. “In the years going forward, hopefully the business goes well and this equity is a real bonus.”

Does he expect player equity to discourage more players from jumping to LIV Golf for lucrative guaranteed contracts?

“I don’t think it was designed as a retention tool if you want to call it that,” said Scott, fifth on the career earnings list with more than $64 million in earnings. “I think the guys who have stayed so far will have a longer-term view of things and will appreciate what the equity is and not just throw that away and leave.”

Spieth, age 30 and seventh on the all-time career money list with $62 million, is a fellow player- director on the Tour policy board. He was asked about the player equity program during his pre-tournament press conference.

“I had a couple players call me and say, wow, I didn’t know — they were excited about what their grants — I don’t know what their grants were. They were excited it was more than they thought it was,” he said. “I had conversations all the way back to even maybe just into the new year with some guys who missed out on it that would’ve made it other years. So I heard both sides.

“As far as the roll-out, I believe that it was made very clear to everybody that if anyone was confused in what it meant, how was it coming, and the roll-out specifically, there was PGA Tour officials every week that could sit down and explain any time anybody wanted to. I thought that was a good idea. I think it’s very confusing. It still is confusing for us players on when it’s vested, what’s the best idea for taxes, you know, stuff that we don’t — we all have people for that. That’s not what any of us do and it’s fairly complicated.”

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